Updated: Feb 8
Service dogs must be trained in certain behaviors to help their specific disabled partner. If the behavior is triggered with a command (visual or verbal), it’s called a “task.” If the behavior is triggered via an environmental cue (a sound, a change in the partner’s body, etc.), it’s called “work.”
This is part of a series on various service dog tasks/work behaviors, their purpose, and how to train them. You can find a glossary of terms here and the whole list of behaviors covered (so far) here. There are so many behaviors and ways to train those behaviors, but I hope to cover the most important ones. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!
Retrieval of items can be vital whether it’s for someone who can’t easily bend down to pick things up or if someone needs a specific item brought to them from somewhere in their home. Of course, it can also be a fun behavior to teach to give your dog something to do around the house, like picking up their toys and putting them in a toy box. A Named Retrieval is for a specific item, such as “Supplies,” “Meds,” or “Leash” as opposed to a formal retrieval, which is a pointed-to object.
There are now 5 articles posted about teaching retrieval: four steps to teach a retrieval and then one to turn a guided retrieval into retrieval of a specific, named item. The steps are Take/Get It, Hold, Give, Bring It, and then Named Retrieval.
In order to train a dog how to perform a named retrieve, follow the below steps. Mark (clicker or “yes”) and reward for correct responses and only move onto the next step when the previous one is consistent and reliable.
Place the object nearby and practice a few retrievals (Get It & Bring It) from the floor by pointing to the object without naming it.
When they’re comfortable retrieving the object, start by saying your specific cue for this one item (e.g. “Meds”) and then point to it and ask for a retrieve.
Start practicing with the item placed at various distances from where you (and your dog) start. Start close to your position and then move further away.
If this Named Retrieve is for something that will be in a regular place (such as a leash or blood sugar supplies), place the object in its home location and start next to it, slowly moving further away from its place.
Remember to vary the distances, so: 1 step away, 2 steps, 4 steps, 3 steps, 4 steps, 2 steps, 3 steps, etc.
If there’s going to be extra weight to a retrieval, start with the least amount of weight possible (e.g. an empty bottle or container) and then slowly increase the weight that is being retrieved. Practice this separately from distance.